Indians breeze through Tornadoes
Storm Lake, fresh off a 6-2 record in 2017, blew into town Thursday night looking to add a notch to its belt to start 2018. Instead, the Tornadoes — whose only losses were to ranked Lakes Conference squads Le Mars and Western Christian — proved they aren't quite ready to join the elite teams of the conference with a 12-point loss to host Spirit Lake.
The Indians, coming off of a rough-and-tumble win over Sioux City North on Tuesday, welcomed the Tornadoes' physical style of play. The hosts jumped out to an early lead before pulling away for a 62-50 win.
"We have always had close games with Storm Lake," Spirit Lake coach David Smith said. "We went down to their place last year and they beat us. They play a nice, aggressive style. They were similar to North where they were up in us and kind of handsy and making things tough. We have a lot of respect for (Storm Lake coach) Heath (Stille) and his program. They play really hard. They're not afraid to shoot the ball. We tried a few things defensively, more of a zone look for them, just to try to keep them from putting their heads down and going to the rim. I thought it was fairly effective for the most part. I would say about 85 percent of the game we were really, really good on defense. The other 15 percent we were not very good at all on defense and gave them some really good looks. If we can clean up that other 15 percent on defense, we would have had a really nice game. Storm Lake doesn't back down, and I'm glad that we hung in there when it tightened up a little bit."
The Indians led 16-10 after one quarter of play and — after switching to a zone defense — stymied the Tornadoes dribble drive to pull ahead to a 32-20 lead at the half.
Storm Lake's scoring picked up in the second half, as the Tornadoes posted 15 points in the third and fourth quarters. But Spirit Lake held on for the win.
While Smith was happy with how his team executed the zone, he said the Indians need to focus on improving their man-to-man defense as they head into the second half of the regular season.
"Against teams like Le Mars and Storm Lake, if you're just playing man-to-man and they get the ball across half-court and they've got a good run at you, some of these teams are really good at spacing you and getting you moving," Smith said. "We don't have guys in great help position in the gaps on each side of the ball. So, when you go into a zone, you always have guys spaced up the right way. Sometimes it's more effective to run the zone against teams that really like to drive it because you present a bigger wall to them defensively and you try to get them to settle for jump shots versus getting and-ones at the basket. That's a deliberate effort on our part on what we're trying to but sometimes you also just have to play man-to-man. I'll be honest, in practice, we're really going to hit it hard and get back to playing man-to-man where we're really sitting and guarding and can guard teams who drive the ball hard. I feel like we've gotten a little bit softer defensively after Christmas break and into this first week of the second part of the season. We've got to get back to just being really, really tough in man-to-man defense."
Junior Owen Coburn led the Indians with 22 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. Senior Alex Van Dyke had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
"Owen and (Alex) were rock solid," Smith said. "Any particular night, we have five or six guys who can put some numbers on the board. That night it was Owen and (Alex). Some nights, some teams will try to take away Alex, other teams will pay a little more attention to Nick (Christensen). Now, some teams are paying a little more attention to Mason (McCaffery). Everybody always pays attention to Owen, but I think Owen is getting his legs under him. He's stronger. He's feeling more confident. I think all of his lifting and everything has kind of paid off. These past two to three games, I think he's had more energy and strength behind his moves at the block. His legs look like they're underneath him. Hopefully, he can continue that the rest of the way."
Smith said Coburn, a South Dakota State hoops commit, is on the verge of taking his game to another level.
"Most people probably don't know, but that kid lifts really hard," he said. "He's committed to it. He rarely takes days off. When you go against him in practice, and when we bang against him, he is very, very strong in the lower body. Now we're working on some footwork stuff and getting him to finish a little bit higher. He works on his outside shot too. He's getting really, really close to having a complete game and really taking it up a notch."
Junior Kip Hurd had 13 points for the Indians, who improved to 7-2 overall on the season and 3-2 in the Lakes Conference.
Spirit Lake returned to action Saturday against Cedar Rapids Kennedy at Wartburg College in Waverly and Tuesday on the road against Adrian (Minnesota). The Indians will next be in action Friday at Cherokee.